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2021 Recruiting Predictions: Webinar Follow-Up

Gem's 2021 Recruiting Predictions webinar included insights by Gem's CEO Steve Bartel, Chief Diversity Officer Rocki Howard, and Venture Partner David Wadhwani. Here are their top 8 predictions.

This week, Gem presented a webinar on 2021 Recruiting Predictions with insights from three professionals who have three different lenses into talent acquisition, given their roles: Steve Bartel, Co-Founder and CEO at Gem; Rocki Howard, Chief Diversity Officer at SmartRecruiters; and David Wadhwani, Venture Partner at Greylock Partners. Together, Steve, Rocki, and David presented eight of the top recruiting predictions they anticipate for next year. We know: December is the month of predictions; and you may be overwhelmed at this point by industry content that’s forecasting next year. But the conversation that unfolded between these three different perspectives was thought-provoking; and much of it was bolstered by a recent Gem survey of over 400 recruiting professionals about what they think recruiting will look like in the year to come. In other words, it was a meeting of many more minds than three. Here are the eight predictions Steve, Rocki, and David discussed:

1. The economy will recover from the pandemic, with some industries rebounding more quickly than others

David offered this first prediction as the backdrop for how recruiting should think about, and plan for, the year ahead. When GDP fell by something like 33% at the beginning of the pandemic, it left us with these questions: What does it look like to take a healthy economy and shut it down? What would restarting that economy again possibly look like? Q3 was our first glimpse into the answer: we saw a steep rebound, which gave people confidence that an economy can be shut down and revive quickly. But Q4 is necessarily more mixed, since we’re seeing the next surge of COVID, along with state and local governments enacting more shelter-in-place orders. 

The current surge will elongate full recovery, David said, but we’ll be in reasonable shape at the macro level in terms of GDP in 2021. Vaccines will be broadly distributed by Q2; the weather will get better. By the middle of the year we’ll be back to where we were before COVID from a GDP perspective. David said that we’ve all been hearing about a V-shape recovery; but he sees the recovery as V-shaped, K-shaped, or L-shaped, depending on what industry you’re in. Technology, retail, and software may be even stronger coming out of COVID; but other sectors—travel, entertainment, hospitality—will look like an L, with a prolonged recovery lag. In other words, there’ll be a big GDP recovery, but a huge portion of the economy will be left behind. Hire those candidates, David advises. Ask what you as a company are doing to help the community around you. 

2. 2021 will continue to be a year of remote hiring

For this prediction, Steve presented some data points from a recent Gem survey that asked: Do you anticipate your hiring processes will stay remote in 2021? The vast majority of respondents said yes; but how they said yes was interesting. 62% said they planned on interviewing and hiring remotely for at least the first half of 2021. 16% said they planned on hiring remotely for the full year. And a full 10% said their company has decided to go fully remote forever. That’s a big percentage of companies—some of them your competitors—who’ve made a pretty massive decision for their employees. 

This has been a challenging transition for a lot of us, Steve said; we’ve had to revamp the process to get the signal we need, all while rethinking candidate experience. But it’s also presented some opportunities. Take Dropbox, for example, which is among that 10%. Their sourcers and recruiters now suddenly have access to a global pool of talent. Democratizing geography makes it easier to build pipeline—and crucially, easier to prioritize diversity. 

3. Organizations will invest more in employer branding than ever before

Remote work is the driving force behind this prediction, Steve said. From a recruitment perspective, one of the biggest challenges of remote work is how difficult it is to showcase your culture when candidates can’t come visit your office. So companies have had to—and will continue to—invest more in employer branding than ever before. Company values are more important to candidates than ever. Talent paid very close attention to how companies responded to the pandemic and to this year’s Black Lives Matter movement. Were there layoffs? Did the org offer a flexible work environment? Did it give back to the community? Did its executives speak up about the killing of George Floyd? Did they commit to building more diverse and inclusive teams? Candidates want to be proud of where they work, and they want to feel safe there. Your employer branding needs to contain the indicators they’re looking for—sincerely.

4. Companies will recognize the need to have a comprehensive and specialized plan to strategically source diverse talent

Rocki reminded us first that diversity recruitment should not be a whole diversity strategy; it should be a key component of a strategy. Posting-and-praying doesn’t work under the best of circumstances; recruiters know this through experience. But what we’ve seen in response to BLM is ultimately a more targeted approach to the post-and-pray methodology: post to diverse job boards, and pray you’ll hit your mark. Diversity recruiting demands a more comprehensive approach, Rocki said, one that focuses on brand. She offered some questions to trigger our thoughts: 

Is your employment brand inclusive? Does it showcase more than a few politically-correct images on your careers page or your blog? Do you demonstrate a commitment to diversity in all your job ads and communications—one that goes beyond the regulatory statement? (Rocki paused here to mention that 95% of her clients are saying that diversity recruitment is a top priority; but according to a recent audit by Claro Analytics, at most 31% are mentioning diversity in their job ads.) Is the language in your job ads culturally-neutral and gender-neutral? Do you have a dedicated sourcing strategy that includes partnerships, referrals, leveraging your ERGs, internal and external events? Does your internal hiring process focus on diverse talent? Are accommodations made to candidates in a respectful and thoughtful manner? Is your hiring team diverse? Have they been trained to mitigate bias? Do you have a structured process with a scorecard? This isn’t a comprehensive list; but it’s a start, Rocki said. The point is that you need a comprehensive and strategic plan for diversity, and you must have the appropriate resources to execute it.

5. Data and analysis on diversity recruiting efforts will be a focus area for all recruiting teams

Steve said that while a lot of us have been prioritizing diversity for some time now, this year has made it glaringly obvious that we need to do more. Most of the orgs he’s talking to are implementing diversity recruiting goals—many of them for the first time—and looking to data and analytics to understand what those goals should be and to track them. Steve mentioned another interesting data point from the survey: 65% of respondents to the question “How do you plan to use data in 2021?” said they planned to use it to track diversity hiring. Diversity hiring is obviously top-of-mind for a lot of us; but we can’t improve what we can’t measure. Without clear goals it’s impossible to hold ourselves accountable; and without data it’s impossible to discover insights that can remove biases from hiring processes. Gem has invested a ton into this area, including a new diversity analytics module which allows you to break down your entire hiring funnel by gender and by race/ethnicity. 

6. Leaders will be held accountable for their diversity commitments

Rocki said that they have a saying in her house: Don’t let your mouth write a check that you can’t cash. Organizations have written a lot of checks this year around their commitments to diversity. A lot of people are sitting back and waiting now; they’ll be monitoring progress and holding those orgs accountable. But it’s not just advocates and analysts who are watching. According to Glassdoor, 78% of employees expect their employers to be inclusive, and applicants want an honest picture of the employment experience and the culture before making a decision about where to work. Talent will hold us accountable. You need clear and specific goals around what you want to accomplish with your diversity programs. You need clear hiring objectives and metrics that are shared with all levels of leadership. You need to include diversity goals in performance reviews and bonus allocations of leaders. Leaders need to support zero tolerance of discriminatory practices and policies. Plausible deniability will no longer fly. You need training.

Rocki responded to a question from the audience about orgs doing diversity work to partner with. She mentioned INROADS, the Jackie Robinson Foundation, the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, Seizing Every Opportunity, the T. Howard Foundation, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, Campus Pride, Teach Access, Fairygodboss, and the Latinos in Information Sciences and Technology Association. If you want to bring diverse talent to the top of your funnel, you have to be deliberate about the orgs you partner with. This isn’t just about posting a job; it’s about building long-term, trusting relationships. 

7. Full-cycle recruiters will focus more on top-of-funnel sourcing and source of hire 

We took an audience poll at this point, and Steve noted that over 50% of attendees have already reached pre-pandemic levels in terms of headcount—the recovery David talked about in prediction #1 is already taking place among us. He then noted that sourcing technology was the most important answer when talent leadership was asked where they plan to invest additional TA budget in 2021. As we’ve started to become more data-driven we’re realizing how important it is to dig into where candidates are coming from. Things like quality of hire and cost per hire can vary dramatically by source. This is especially true for diversity. The earliest stage of the funnel is really the only place where you can influence the makeup of your pipeline, since channels like inbound and referrals are inherently less diverse. So if teams aren’t actively sourcing and nurturing diverse talent pools, they won’t see a diverse pipeline, a diverse set of interviews, or a diverse team. Teams that care about candidate quality, cost per hire, and diversity will be paying closer attention to source of hire. 

8. Venture capital will make larger, riskier investments

Finally, David led us through what happened when the pandemic broke out and the Feds cut interest rates effectively to 0%, causing many investors to shift their dollars into money markets. In fact, Goldman estimated that a trillion dollars have moved into money markets in the last few months. Money markets aren’t particularly high-return investments, but they give you liquidity. It’s a good place to put your money before you start buying stocks in the public markets.

The combination of more capital sitting on the sidelines with the higher multiples you’re seeing in public companies means that startups will be in a position to raise higher valuations, so they can raise more money... and therefore hire more people. So VCs will maintain their four fundamentals in 2021: is this a great set of founders to work with; is this a big market to go after; is this tech disruptive in some way; is there some predictability around how they’ll go to market. But their risk tolerance, David said, will be higher. You’ll see a fundamental change in the VC community toward potential reward and away from risk. You’ll see more winners, and winners with bigger outcomes. Companies will be hiring more people. From a recruiting perspective, that means have your game ready for 2021. A lot of talent will be pulled up from earlier stage companies as they’re scaling. 


After these eight predictions were offered, attendees offered their own predictions related to everything from soft skills to hiring for diversity leadership. There was a Q&A afterward. If you’d like to view the entire webinar on demand, you can find it here.


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